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  1. Culture
8 September 2016

In all my years working for the BBC, I’d never been given a proper, laminated security pass

Every time I entered TV Centre or Broadcasting House, I was subject to the vagaries of the corporation’s security staff. 

By Alexei Sayle

In 1994 I won an International Emmy award for The All New Alexei Sayle Show. Not that I ever got to see it. In fact, the first I knew about this prestigious award was when my mother-in-law rang to say she’d just seen Benny Hill being presented with my Emmy at a ceremony in New York, on the breakfast news.

Afterwards, it was locked away in a storeroom like the one at the end of Indiana Jones. I was invited to a drinks reception for winners, hosted by the then director general of the BBC, John Birt. I’d not met him before, but looked forward to this party as an opportunity to make a good impression on the man at the top.

My only problem was how to get into the building where the party was being held. I had recently bumped into the comedian Arthur Smith outside Broadcasting House and noticed that around his neck he was wearing something I had coveted almost all my professional life but never obtained: a laminated pouch containing a BBC staff pass. In the whole of my time working for the BBC, making two series of The Young Ones, six of my own comedy series and numerous dramas and documentaries, I’d never managed to get one of these precious objects.

Every time I entered TV Centre or Broadcasting House, I was subject to the vagaries of the corporation’s security staff. They would look down at their list: “Akeksis Doyle? Nobody here of that name . . .” On other occasions they would wave me through with a friendly gesture. I never knew which it was going to be, and I developed a twitchy anxiety over whether I was going to be allowed in to do my job.

On the day of the drinks party, I approached the security guards at Television Centre. They looked at their pass list in a puzzled way, and I exploded.

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“Look,” I shouted, “I’m having an actual drink with the director general and I haven’t got time for any of this!”

Pushing past them, I strode up to the woman on the reception desk, and said: “I believe the party is being held in the boardroom on the eighth floor.”

“This building doesn’t have an eighth floor,” she replied.

The party was at Broadcasting House in the West End, not here in Shepherd’s Bush.

I had to get back into town fast – but first, somehow, I had to exit through the gate, past the security guards I’d so rudely brushed aside.

I decided to pretend that I was a man who’d left something in the building.

“I’ve got it!” I shouted, as I marched past the men, waving a dry-cleaning ticket I’d found in my pocket.

I ran to the Tube station, caught a train to Oxford Circus and sprinted up to Portland Place. I was the last to arrive, and as John Birt greeted me the effects of my exertions kicked in. Bent double and unable to breathe, I gasped: “Gerk . . . awk, I awk.” A sheet of sweat began to cascade down my face.

The director general, cucumber-cool as ever in his Armani suit, stared at me with his oyster eyes, then he turned and began talking to Noel Edmonds.

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This article appears in the 31 Aug 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Syria's world war